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Political party cross-endorsements: How they work

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone on Thursday criticized the “cross-endorsement” process, in which political candidates are endorsed by multiple political parties. Following is an explanation of how the process works:

Q: What is a cross-endorsement?

A: Cross-endorsements occur when the nominee of one political party also receives the nomination of one or more other parties. The candidate’s name appears not only on the ballot line of his own party but on the others’ as well.

Q: When do cross endorsements normally occur?

A: Minor parties — the Conservative, Independence and Working Family Parties — usually cross-endorse candidates of major parties. The minor parties do this in part because they often do not have candidates or their own, they sympathize with the major party candidates’ positions or they are seeking for patronage jobs.

While there are exceptions, Conservatives normally back Republicans the Working Families Party generally backs Democrats.

Q: Does a major party ever cross-endorse another major party’s candidates?

A: Over the last decade, the Suffolk Republican and Democratic Parties have taken part in cross- endorsements of some of their party’s candidates in countywide races to protect incumbents already in office. This also spares the cost of financing an expensive countywide race when a party faces the prospect of fielding a little-known candidate against an established incumbent.

Cross-endorsements are most likely when each party has incumbents for different countywide offices that both can back. Cross-endorsements do not usually occur in races where there is an open seat and no incumbent.

Q: Who has received cross endorsements?

A: After their initial elections, Suffolk County Democratic District Attorney Thomas Spota, Republican Suffolk County Clerk Judith Pascale and Conservative Suffolk Sheriff Vincent DeMarco all received major and minor party cross-endorsements for their re-election contests, virtually ensuring their election with little or no opposition. Former County Executive Steve Levy, when he was a Democrat, and Republican Comptroller Joseph Sawicki and former Treasurer Angie Carpenter have also had major and minor party cross-endorsements.

Q: Why are cross-endorsements criticized?

A: Critics say that cross-endorsements reduce or eliminate voter choice in elections, making incumbents less accountable to the public. They also say the deals make candidates more beholden to party leaders and lead to backroom deal making based on politics and patronage, not merit.

Backers say cross-endorsements are justified especially in races for low-profile, ministerial-type jobs such as county clerk, when both parties can agree on the value of an existing incumbent or can agree on one another’s new candidates.

Q: What about cross-endorsements in judicial races?

A: Nassau Republicans for years refused to participate in any cross-endorsement deals. But the past three years, the GOP has made agreements in state Supreme Court races to back some Democrats in return for support of Republican candidates. That was part of an effort to thwart former Suffolk Conservative Chairman Edward Walsh, whom Nassau GOP chairman Joseph Mondello felt sought too many nominations for his minor party.

In Suffolk, major parties have agreed to judicial cross-endorsements when each has incumbents they want to protect, or both parties agree to swap backing for new contenders. Such endorsements can be easier in judicial races because candidates run on solely on their legal credentials, and cannot discuss issues due to ethics rules.

Some deals also occur when one party is looking to remove a popular incumbent from a nonjudicial office to create an open seat with a better chance to win. Suffolk Republicans backed Democratic Brookhaven Highway Superintendent John Rouse for County Court. Rouse’s victory opened the highway post for Republican Suffolk Legis. Dan Losquadro, who won a special election for the patronage rich town post.

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